Inpatient was hell on earth. And I say that in the most loving way possible. I will say this: it saved my life, but it did not “cure me” of my eating disorder. I showed up at 78 pounds, barely holding on, and left 87 days later, 25 pounds heavier and physically stable. But that’s where it ended. When I left, I was so completely terrified of the weight I had gained that I relapsed harder than at the onset of my disease. But let’s go back to the beginning.
After I had consented to go to inpatient, I had 24 hours to pack up my things and fly out to Arizona to –we’ll call it “R.” It was the best eating disorder inpatient clinic in the country. Mary Kate Olsen, as well as several other “A-List” patients have “served their time” here. Back in the mid 2000’s when I went, it was a different place than it is now. Ringing in at over $160,000 –yes, you read that right- it was the best and only option.
My parents flew out with me. I had packed up my clothes, which, although we were going to the desert, consisted of mainly cold weather things, since my body was always freezing. Then, I had my “ED bag” – an entire suitcase filled with the cocktail of pills and supplements I was taking, my walking shoes, my exercise ball to “stretch” with, etcetera etcetera.
The plane ride over was terrifying. Not because of the flight, but because of how scared I was of the impending doom. I knew I was going to have to eat and actually gain weight.
But here’s the thing: I knew that the minimum amount of time I could be there was three months. I also knew that at the end of the three months, that if I hadn’t gained enough weight to be “stable” and “healthy,” that they would make me stay longer. Cue the slasher music.
So already going into it, I knew that I was going to “go big.” From as far back as I can remember, my motto was always, “go big or go home,” and that was precisely what I did. I knew that if I could just play the game, I could get on my way. The perfectionist in me kicked in. I’d gain that F-ing weight, be the absolute best patient they’d ever seen, say all the right answers, and then get the f#ck outta there after three months, and not a day more. That was what I was going to do. Check the box, get the hell out, and then get the weight off. That was my plan. And it was starting the minute I found out that they would keep me longer than the three months if need be.
So, on the plane over there, I ATE. My entire carry on bag was filled with cereal and snacks and water. I was gonna put that f-ing weight on, and fast. Granted, I was scared shitless, so I was wiggling my legs the entire time to burn calories, but I was going to get those numbers up so I could go home.
When I got to R, they checked me into the front desk, at a lovely, Spanish style building. Then they drove my parents and I out in a golf cart to the rec room where I would be spending my days. It almost seemed like a daycare for adults: there were two round dining/craft tables, which each sat about 8 people. There was a couch, cubbies, a “food window” where food was served, art supplies, and a nurses’ station. When I arrived, there were about 15 girls, who were playing cards, journaling, or reading. About 10 of them had feeding tubes coming out of their noses. I felt an all over hotness – a flush of fear and anxiety, but I knew that my 90 days were ticking. It was time to do what I came to do so I could leave. So I kissed my parents goodbye and marched my way into my resident hell for the next three months.
After my parents left, it was like a switch was flipped and I was instantly pummeled into a vortex. I was taken into a back examination room. I was freezing. Scared. Freaked out by the girls with tubes in their noses. The nurses were being frightfully mean and firm, but I know now that this is because they never know if the patient will be belligerent or cooperative. And I learned after being there for a month, belligerence happens more often than not.
“Strip and put on the gown. We’re taking your weight and doing a body check.”
I was literally shaking with cold from the air conditioning. Being forced to take off my clothes and put on a paper gown was sheer torture. Not only that, but I had “water loaded” and not pooped in addition to stuffing my face on the plane so that I would weigh as much as I possibly could for my entrance weight. “Water loading” is when you drink as much water as you can bear before weighing in so that you get an inaccurately high read. It may not seem like much, but every ounce counts in inpatient. The problem in this plan (aside from the dangers of water loading) was that I would have an inaccurate “starting weight.” As a result, I would have to water load every morning before weigh in to compensate.
So there I was, having to pee so freaking much it was unbearable. I mean, I have never had to pee or go to the bathroom so badly in my life! But I had to get weighed first so that I could make it count. Then to top it off, I couldn’t pee directly afterwards, or it would be obvious that I had water loaded. So not only was I trembling with cold, but I was also ready to explode like Niagara Falls. But they had to do the body check first.
I’ll tell you what, there’s not much more humbling in life than shivering, naked in front of strangers at 78 pounds as they check every inch of your body to see if you’ve been cutting or self harming yourself. Not. Much. Well, except for when my hair fell out. That was a close second.
Simultaneously a tray was slammed down in front of me consisting of chicken noodle soup, saltine crackers, a mandarin orange cup, milk, and a cookie. ‘Oh God,” I thought, “I just ate all that on the plane. How am I possibly going to eat this too?” “Oh God, is that a cookie?” I was terrified of the butter in the cookie. No way was I going to eat that cookie.
“Eat.” The stern woman with the large breasts gave me a cold, dead look that read, “try me.” Well, alrighty then. Put the weight on so I can get the hell out. Challenge accepted. Cookie and all.
While all this was going on, I felt like my head was spinning. These women were so cold to me and kept asking me, “So when did your eating disorder start?” “How long have you been anorexic?” “When did your eating disorder become so severe?” “Are you bulimic too?”
“But I’m not anorexic!” “I don’t have an eating disorder!” “It’s Ulcerative Colitis!” “I’m eating! I don’t have an eating disorder!” I kept trying to get it through to them. “I’m not anorexic!” I kept saying it and saying it, but these unyielding women would have none of it.